The ground with a hole

The last time I'd watched India play Australia, in a one-dayer at the Wankhede Stadium in November, the din when Sachin Tendulkar, the local hero, came out to bat made the lights in the Mumbai press-box flicker and threatened to bring the pavilion down.

At the Melbourne Cricket Ground something has brought the pavilion down - but it was builders' swinging demolition balls rather than anybody's swinging bats. As the MCG gears up for the 2006 Commonwealth Games the quaint old pavilion, with its dress code, monogrammed carpets, and "Bourke Street" - a photograph-lined treasure-trove of a corridor - has bitten the dust, and another huge stand is to replace it.

The press-box was semi-subterranean before - from the third row you couldn't see any sky, thanks to the towering Great Southern Stand opposite - but now, with the pavilion gone, it offers surprising vistas over towards the skyscrapers and hotels of central Melbourne. You can even glimpse the freeloaders, wandering over the bridge that connects the ground to the tennis centre which just staged the Australian Open, stopping to take in a bit of the cricket action.

The ground now resembles a doughnut with a hefty bite chomped out of one side. When the bowling was from the Southern end, the bowlers - early on it was Jason Gillespie and Ian Harvey, the hairiest pair of speedsters since Lillee and Thommo - operated against a backdrop of steep seats (at steepish prices). But when the bowling was from the ex-pavilion end it was as if the series was sponsored by Bob the Builder.

A slightly disappointing Melbourne crowd (a few locals have been grumbling that the match wasn't being played at the weekend) watched a slightly disappointing Indian batting performance. When those bustling batalikes, Tendulkar and Sehwag, strolled out, it seemed to be game on: but once they were blown away by the Aussie pacemen, there was too much for this season's heroes VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid to do.

Over to midwicket on one side was a phalanx of yellow-shirted Aussie fans, who outnumbered a band of Indians in identical blue sunhats. "Brett is back," proclaimed one of the yellow-shirts' posters, and he was right. Lee, fresh from some well-publicised advice from Dennis Lillee, motored in from the ex-pavilion end, kept himself knuckle-scrapingly close to the stumps, and fired down a testing series of short ones. If he had been away, Lee really was back now.

Meanwhile, back in the crowd, the odd displaced Melbourne Cricket Club member was wandering around the Olympic Stand, which adjoins the expanse of sand where the pavilion once was. "I've seen the plans and it'll be nice when it's finished," he said of the site. "The new long room is a big tall thing like an atrium, very airy. But it's annoying that they couldn't find room for a couple of squash courts in there - it's a huge area, and there's even going to be an underground car-park, but they're making us go somewhere else to play squash." So you can't please everyone (there was a similar outcry a few years ago when the bowling greens near the main entrance were replaced by practice nets for the cricketers).

Even the press, in the old box for the last time, are looking forward to moving. The new box is higher up, and more directly behind the bowler's arm. It probably won't stop the complaints (today, sacrilegiously, the pies were cold!) but it should keep them down a bit.

Steven Lynch is editor of Wisden Cricinfo.